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The SIEVX Landmark of Conscience

The SIEV X Landmark of Conscience

We shouldn't have worried, again the applause spoke for itself. When the evening ended, senators, members of the ACT assembly, officials from museums and planning authorities, and most importantly the refugees themselves, all expressed the same view. Its beautiful. Its fitting. You must build it.

Related pages:

Tony Kevin, A Certain Maritime Incident5 August 2004: Tony Kevin's SIEV X book: A Certain Maritime Incident - With impressive courage and determination, Tony Kevin has unearthed the grim and deeply moving story he recounts in this remarkable book, an "always powerfully contested story" and one of "durable national significance" that has "crept into the hearts and consciences of many Australians" and must find its way to the hearts and consciences of many others...

30 October 2005: Tony Kevin's SIEV X 4th Anniversary Speech - "All of us who care - and there are many of us - can use our rights of free speech and free enquiry, and free debate on the internet, to keep the questions about SIEV X alive."

18 October 2005: SIEV X four years on: still drowning in spin - Like all disasters in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, the SIEV X affair will not finish until all questions are answered, all documents held in secret by the Howard government are released, and all those who know things they have not told the Australian people, have been subpoenaed to testify and also tell the full and unabbreviated truth about the SIEV X disaster.

20 March 2004: Tony Kevin still says: SIEV X: Lies, lies and more lies - We will keep on talking publicly about SIEV X and asking questions about it. In that way, the truth will out, new whistleblowers will come forward over time, and the guilty will finally be held to account. This is a major story that is a long way from over.

20 February 2004: The SIEV X National Memorial Project - The SIEV X National Memorial Project is an Australia-wide Young People's Art Collaboration, to design and build a memorial to the people of SIEV X, on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, the national capital.

2 December 2003: The Australian Labor Party and SIEV X - An open letter to Labor's new leader Mark Latham, by Tony Kevin, SIEVX whistleblower. "Do you support the series of passed Senate motions calling for a full powers independent judicial inquiry into the sinking of SIEV X ? If you become Prime Minister, will you undertake to implement this Senate demand?"

23 July 2003: John Faulkner, The Aftermath of the CMI Inquiry - "John Howard indicated that he was prepared to spend whatever money it took to deter boatpeople from arriving on the Australian mainland. But have there been other costs? What has been the cost of the Howard Government's disruption programme in Indonesia - not just the financial cost? I intend to keep asking questions until I find out. I intend to keep pressing for an independent judicial inquiry into these very serious matters."

22 May 2003: SIEV X and the DFAT cable: The conspiracy of silence - That such a large number of government officials .... were willing to co-operate in withholding the detailed, highly relevant information in the DFAT cable leaves little doubt that we are still far from the full truth concerning the sinking of SIEVX.

20 May 2003: An interview with 2003 Whistleblower of the Year Tony Kevin - Former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin is convinced the SIEV X asylum-seeker tragedy will become the Howard Government's Watergate. "...the public story was not true, it did not hang together..."

The SIEV X Landmark of Conscience is born

by Steve Biddulph
SIEV X Memorial
22 October 2005

Into the whisper quiet Canberrra City Uniting Church there came a sudden tidal flow of people, noise, news cameras and journalists, senators rubbing shoulders with people in headscarfs, refugee children and babies running amongst the legs and feet, and musicians setting up amps and guitars. The pews filled with a most unchurchish crowd, and there was a moment of waiting.

Jon Stanhope the ACT Chief Minister opened the evening, and right away we entered some kind of altered space. He made passing remarks about his recent role in making public the new terror laws, and the audience erupted. They simply wouldn't stop clapping, and Jon Stanhope, pleased but somewhat embarrassed, eventually had to wave them to stop. Message received.

The Bloody McKennas, youthful musicians who had come from Brisbane just that day to sing their powerful anthem Time and Tide, were clearly affected by the moment, as they sang the bandmembers and some in the audience were already blinking back tears.

The mood of earlier SIEVX events was changing to resolve, you could feel it in the room. Amal Basry, the indomitable Iraqi woman survivor, told the story of the people on the boat. By way of answer, the Chorus of Women - a unique choir that could probably call down brimstone from the skies, sang hauntingly in apology straight to the faces of the five survivors and their family members, who had come from all over Australia to be there. Elders of the Islamic community nodded in gruff approval.

Co-ordinator Beth Gibbings, who had worked three years for this moment, then brought out of the shadows a huge computer altered image of the lakeshore in Canberra, on which was the planned memorial structure. The audience literally gasped. As someone prone to thinking the worst, I assumed it was not positive. Beth and I spoke hesitantly about the procession of white poles, each panelled with community art from communities all over the country, each honouring a single parent or child from SIEVX. The poles emerge from the water, suddenly diverge to show the outline of the boat, exactly in its 19.5 by 4 metre dimensions, then rejoin and continue to snake over the hills for almost 200 metres. 353 people is a lot of people.

We shouldn't have worried, again the applause spoke for itself. When the evening ended, senators, members of the ACT assembly, officials from museums and planning authorities, and most importantly the refugees themselves, all expressed the same view. Its beautiful. Its fitting. You must build it.

The confusing flurry of inaccurate news items about it 'not being allowed to be built' have dissolved. The concept has registered. A "Landmark of Conscience" is more than a memorial - its a way for church groups, RAR groups, school students, refugees themselves and notable artists, all to show their outrage and their remorse that as a country we let this, and all the terrible mistreatment of people in the last four years, to happen at all. Graceful white poles inlaid with beautiful community art will flow across the country to Canberra next year, to be stood up in remembrance.

The SIEVX memorial has evolved to be a statement of intent, that this country will grow, up, it will face its horrible mistakes squarely, and take responsibility. For this is the only way things can change.

Steve Biddulph is a men's issues writer and the founder of the SIEVX Memorial Project.

SIEV X mourners remember the nameless dead

The Age
By Andra Jackson
October 20, 2005

FOUR years ago Bahja Hassan lost an uncle, his wife and their five children, aged four to 11, when the SIEV X sank.

Ms Hassan, who was born in Iraq and now lives in Whittlesea, is in no doubt over who is to blame for her loss.

"I blame the Australian Navy and the Indonesian smugglers for their deaths," she said yesterday, at the commemoration of a memorial for the 353 asylum seekers who lost their lives when the boat sank.

Only 45 people survived the tragedy, rescued 20 hours later by Indonesian fishing vessels.

A Melbourne Islamic leader yesterday challenged the Australian Navy to explain why it didn't go to the rescue of the SIEV X as the vessel, overloaded with people, started taking water.

Sheikh Issa, from the Islamic Council of Victoria, said he understood the vessel sank close to Australian waters where the Australian Navy was operating.

"So if there was a willingness to save them, that could have been done.

"We remember how there was a ship called Tampa. That ship saved a lot of people," he said, referring to the Norwegian ship that rescued 433 asylum seekers a month earlier.

"Why was the Tampa path not emulated by the Australian Navy?"

The tragedy should be highlighted in international forums, he said. "The refugees have every right to be taken care of."

He said nearly all the victims were Muslims, mainly from "wrecked countries" such as Iraq. "The community is very disappointed at this tragedy and the lack of response from the Government. They did not show any sympathy."

At a simple ceremony in the Flagstaff Gardens, he read from the Koran and said "in Islamic literature, we call such people martyrs because they were coming for noble ideas - to have a better life for their families."

Sheikh Issa also called on the Australian Federal Police to relent on their refusal to release the names of the dead. "People say there is this number 353 but why are they kept nameless?" he said.

He proposed their names be recorded on a memorial for relatives to see.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Robert Hill referred to the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident report, which found extensive maritime surveillance on Australia's northern approaches was under way at the time.

On October 19, 2001, the helicopter from HMAS Arunta was assigned to searching an area where the SIEV X survivors were waiting for help, but turned back after running low on fuel.

ADA Director Speaks Out On Sinking Location
by Marg Hutton
21 October 2005

In a letter in today's Age, the Executive Director of the Australian Defence Association, Neil James, rebuts claims made in the newspaper yesterday that the Navy bears some responsibility for the SIEVX tragedy.

The curious thing about James' letter is that while he states that SIEVX went down in 'Indonesian waters' he actually gives a location - ie 'about 70 kilometres south of Java' - which is in international waters and within the Operation Relex border protection surveillance zone! This figure is similar to one Don Greenlees gave in an article in the Australian back in 2001 soon after the sinking.

Earlier this year we had Ministers Vanstone and Ellison making public statements (which they later retracted) that SIEVX sank in 'international waters'. Now we have the Executive Director of a Defence watchdog organisation saying the same thing. Government Ministers and Directors of organisations associated with Australian Defence don't pull figures out of thin air. It is apparent that far from the sinking position being 'unknown' and at best 'speculative' as claimed by the Defence Review of Intelligence on SIEVX, there exists authoritative data held by the government (persuasive enough to initially convince Ellison, Vanstone and James of its provenance) that shows that SIEVX sank exactly where we claim it sank - inside the Operation Relex surveillance zone.

It will be interesting to see if Neil James follows Vanstone and Ellison's lead and retracts or amends his statement regarding the sinking location.

Don't blame navy for SIEV X tragedy

The Age
21 October 2005

THE Islamic Council of Victoria's Sheikh Issa owes the Royal Australian Navy an apology for his calumny that the navy was somehow involved in the 2001 sinking of SIEV X ( The Age, 20/10).

This old and leaky Indonesian fishing vessel was grossly overloaded at gunpoint by Iraqi, Egyptian and Indonesian people smugglers and subsequently sank during a storm in what has always been regarded as geographically Indonesian waters about 70 kilometres south of Java. The sinking occurred more than 2200 kilometres from mainland Australia and some 350 kilometres from the nearest Australian territory of Christmas Island. As the subsequent Senate inquiry revealed, the nearest Australian warships and aircraft were hundreds of kilometres away during and after the sinking. The RAN had no way of knowing of the tragedy but obviously would have helped if it had known and could have assisted.

More to the point, the sinking occurred well within Indonesia's zone of international search and rescue responsibility. It is simply irresponsible at best to wrongly blame the RAN when an unseaworthy Indonesian boat on a smuggling voyage sinks off the Indonesian coast well inside the Indonesian search and rescue zone.

The grief of SIEV X survivor Bahja Hassan is understandable, but blaming the RAN is simple psychological transference with no factual foundation and will not help resolution of her grief.

Neil James
Executive Director
Australia Defence Association, Canberra

The Age, Letters, 21 October 2005